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Drought + Insects + Stress = Dead Trees On Campus

As established trees die, horticulturists are planting replacements.

If you’ve walked around North Campus lately, you may have had the funny feeling that something had changed. A new building? Another statue?  Or….what?

What has changed is that the historic part of ’s extensive campus is sunnier. And that’s because some of the older trees that shaded it so well have died, falling victim to drought, storms, old age, stress and disease.

So far in 2011, some 130 of the university’s trees have died, says landscape architect Dexter Adams, who’s in charge of the university’s grounds.

“About every quarter mile, there’s a dead tree,” he says. “It’s mostly because of cumulative drought and heat. But when a tree gets weakened, opportunitistic bugs move in. Or a storm can damage it to where it's dangerous.”

An inventory shows there are 9,000 trees on the UGA campus. Most of them are established trees, which means that “you don’t really expect to have to water them,” Adams says. “You would need a bag the size of a swimming pool to water a large tree.”

In the past three years, a lot of new trees have taken root on the campus. These will be watered until they are established. They're of different varieties so that the campus doesn't develop a monoculture.

What’s being planted? Native hardwoods such as Willow Oaks and Shumard Oaks, which are in the red oak famly. Select Trees, a company found—for now—near High Shoals in Oconee County, is giving the university replacement trees.

“The good thing is that they are known for root pruning their trees, and that helps a lot with survivability,” Adams said.

The school pays Select Trees $1,200 per tree to move it to campus, plant it and maintain it for a year. By then, Adams said, the trees should be established, and “with native hardwoods, they’ll be pretty drought tolerant.”

The trees that are being planted aren’t the typical twigs you might see in a housing development. They’re 6 to 8 inches in diameter measured several feet up the trunk. 

The first year, some 225 trees were moved to campus. Last year, there were 200. And so far this year, there have been about 150 new trees.

“We’ve pretty much planted out where we can,” Adams said.

While it’s wonderful that UGA is making such a big investment in trees, losing an old tree is difficult, leaving a gap in the landscape that takes generations to fill.

A post oak in front of the Treanor House on Lumpkin Street died. When it was cut down, Adams said, he counted 180 rings on the stump, "making it about the same age as the house."

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